It's not an understatement to say in the 2008-2009 College Basketball season, the Big East Conference will put forth the greatest collection of teams in a single conference ever.
Early preseason polls and projections from across the country have seven to eight Big East teams in the top 25 with up to nine total receiving votes. Most have three Big East teams in the top five to ten spots.
The early projections come after seven Big East schools finished ranked in the USA/ESPN poll and UCONN was on the outside looking in, but still receiving votes.
Most of the ranked teams improve for the 2008 season.
The Big East names 11 players to their first all-conference team. Of those 11, six will return for another season at their respective schools. Of the five players not returning, Roy Hibbert, David Padgett, Brian Laing, Kentrell Gransberry, and Joe Alexander, only one has nobody to replace him on a contending team.
Greg Monroe will enter Georgetown with nearly as much hype as Greg Oden to replace the somewhat overrated Roy Hibbert (Jonathon Wallace goes down as without a doubt the more valuable player for the Hoyas).
While Cardinals' incoming recruit Samuardo Samuels won't be filling David Padgett's position, he'll still be an instant impact player that will help UL fans forget Padgett and the also departing Derrick Caracter.
Joe Alexander departs an up and coming Mountaineer team under the tutelage of Bob Huggins. He's only one of three Big East all-conference performers to forfeit at least a year of eligibility to take a shot at the pros. He leaves West Virginia at a critical juncture of the school's development as a basketball program.
Alexander represents the last piece for West Virginia to become a premier basketball program. They've got a lot of good players, a great coach, and a solid fan base. What they are missing is the superstar go to guy. Alexander is that guy.
Kentrell Gransberry and Brian Laing leave two teams that have quickly become second and third tier Big East teams.
South Florida has struggled to get off the ground since moving to the Big East a few years ago. They've got a little hope with all-conference guard Dominique Jones, but the Bulls don't have a lot of quality players to surround him with.
Brian Laing leaves a Seton Hall team that continued to under-perform despite quality players like Laing, Eugene Harvey, and and Jamar Nutter.
Besides Alexander, only two other Big East underclassmen are attempting to play at the next level. Syracuse's Donte' Greene leaves a stacked youthful squad and Marquette's Jerel McNeal bailed on the now Tom Crean-less Golden Eagles.
Both leave both of those teams most likely one player short from being top tier teams in the Big East in 2008-2009.
Donte' Greene departs the Orange despite the fact SU has the returning talent to be a National Championship contender. Throw together one of the premier point guards in the country Jonny Flynn with two sharp shooters, Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins returning from torn ACLs, a solid center Arinze Onuaku, possibly the best 6'4'' rebounder in the country Paul Harris, a European glue guy in Kristof Ongenaet, a few stud freshmen and several other returning bench players and it's obvious Donte' Greene is leaving a stacked SU team.
The Orange look to repeat what UCONN did in 2008 next year. The Huskies struggled tremendously with a team loaded with underclassmen; UCONN finished 17-14 and missing the NCAA and NIT Tournaments. In 2007, UCONN turned it around with the same core of players to enter the 2008 NCAA Tournament as a four seed.
The Orange as mentioned above have a similar core of underclassmen and are poised to make a similar turnaround.
Jim Calhoun will have all of their key players back for the 2008-2009 season. All-Conference players Jeff Adrien, A.J. Price, Hasheem Thabeet will return as well as role players Stanley Robinson, Craig Austrie, and Gavin Edwards. UCONN only loses back up guard Doug Wiggins, but incoming star guard Kemba Walker will make UCONN fans forget Wiggins.
After a few down years, it's pretty evident the Huskies will once again be a premier team in America.
The Huskies won't be the only Big East team threatening to take the top spot in the national polls.
Pitt and Notre Dame return some of the most impressive cores of any team in the entire country.
The Panthers will feature a Boston Celtics like trio in All-Conference forwards Sam Young and DeJaun Blair, but also stud guard Levance Fields. The Panthers will in all likelihood be a top ten if not a top five team in the first preseason poll. Young and Blair make up the best tandem of forwards in the Big East (Hibbert and Adrien are a close second though).
The best forward in the Big East and probably second best in the country plays for a team unmentioned so far. Luke Harangody of Notre Dame returns for his junior season after putting up 20-10 after 20-10 game in 2008. 'Gody averaged over 23 points and 11 boards a game during conference play.
To compliment the stud forward, the Irish also return one of the top three point shooters in the country in Kyle McAlarney. The guard who missed most of the 2007 season because of a suspension for drugs, torched opposing defenses with his long range shooting.
South Bend's inside-outside game will help the Fighting Irish contend for a national championship.
Have you had enough of premier Big East teams?
Well there's two more teams that will most likely find themselves ranked with two more that will enter the 2008 season as sleepers with big time potential.
Marquette and Villanova return a large portion of their core rosters.
Only Jerel McNeal and coach Tom Crean left Marquette, but the Golden Eagles should still be in solid shape come March. Guard Dominic James and small forward Lazar Heyward were both second team All-Conference last year. MU has some problems at the four and the five, but overall they are still going to give a lot of teams match up problems.
Villanova made the Sweet 16 in 2008 as a 12 seed, but in 2009, the Wildcats will definitely have Sweet 16 potential, but it will likely be as a top six or seven seed, not a 12.
Former Big East Freshmen of the Year Scottie Reynolds leads another roster filled with young talent. Corey Fisher, Antonio Pena, Dante Cunningham, and Corey Stokes return to Coach Jay Wright's guard happy lineup.
So who's left?
Seton Hall, St. John's (another young team that had nine freshmen in 2008), DePaul, South Florida, and Rutgers won't be making too much noise in 2009. They'll all make the Big East Tournament after the field expanded to all 16 teams for the 2009 season, but all of them probably won't make it out of the first round.
Cincinnati and Providence will provide to be two major sleepers. First Team All-Conference guard Deonta Vaughn will be even better and will have the potential to single handily beat most Big East teams with his explosive performances.
Providence returns its top 10 scorers from 2008. The Friars were expected to compete in 2008, but star point guard Sharaud Curry missed all but eight minutes with a wrist injury. Providence also hired Drake's Coach of the Year, Keno Davis to pull the Friars together and hopefully have the same effect he had on Drake during the 2008 season.
Come March Madness in 2009, the Big East Conference will most likey have three teams competing for a two seed or better, five or six more in serious contention for an NCAA berth, and two more sleepers that could make strong runs through the NIT.
It's going to be a good year for the Big East.
And with all that said, here are some early off-season projections:
1. Notre Dame and UCONN (tied, both teams are too good and its too early to distinguish between the two)
4. West Virginia
12. St. John's
14. Seton Hall
16. South Florida
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